What has happened to my life? Seriously, sometimes I feel my life has been taken hostage by lunatics. Nothing illustrates this better than the following. Recently my husband Tim has gotten quite into cooking, and he's good at it too. Inspired by Gordon Ramsay he announces spontaneously that he will cook. It's like a dare when he gets the recipe book out and says tauntingly "Pick one!".
He has the attitude I once had in the kitchen - adventurous, inspired, daring! Almost randomly he shouts possibilities for dinner - curried barramundi with mussels, pressed pork belly, beef wellington, white chocolate panacotta with champagne granita, chocolate fondant pudding... All of these he has made and they are each as impressive as they sound. When the menu is agreed upon he scribbles a list, calling to me 'Do we have this? Where can I get that? etc' and then he's off, unencumbered, shopping bag in hand, to a list of specialty shops to gather ingredients for the meal.
It is quite a production but well worth the wait. Tom, Charlotte and I are banished from the kitchen but the sound of furious chopping, sizzling and beating still reach us, as do the smells that rise up the stairs and begin to tickle our appetites. In my mind's eye I imagine every saucepan in the sink, every fry pan on the stove, the bench top hardly visible beneath a great culinary work in progress.
Several hours later we are summoned to the table. Tim, buoyed by his furious activity and several glasses of wine eagerly tastes his creation then begins his domination of the conversation, dissecting each ingredient and expounding on the lengthy processes involved in creating his gastronomic delight. Would Gordon approve he wonders? (They are on first name basis now having intimately recreated so many of his recipes). Does the wine match the food? Would he do anything differently next time?
But it all boils down to this, if, after much tasting and nodding and masticating, the meal is a success he announces triumphantly the same statement each time; "I'd be happy if I ordered this in a restaurant."
"So would I" I offer in return, and I would, especially seeing as I don't go out to restaurants any more. In fact I can count the number of times I've been out after dark since having children on one hand. I used to eat out a lot. I even did a hospitality course where it was part of my course curriculum to eat out and grade the restaurants. I loved Prasit Thai, The Red Lantern, Billy Kwongs, Cafe Mint, The Uchi Lounge. I knew the Sous Chef at The Longrain.
And then I had kids. I really didn't know what I was in for. My independence went out the window along with other youthful extravagancies like my libido.
But I hadn't seen the enormous contrast in Tim's and my cooking til last week when I decided to make chicken cacciatore with rice for dinner. A lot of thought had been put into this seemingly innocuous meal, such as 'Could all members of my family (with or without teeth) eat it?', 'Did it disguise vegetables?', 'Were all the ingredients available at Coles?', 'Could the entire meal be made using two saucepans only?' and most importantly 'If I made a truck load of it would that mean I wouldn't have to think about shopping or cooking for the next couple of days at least?'
Yes, incredibly, chicken cacciatore had met all these important criteria. And, even better, it was so easy to make I could probably throw together something else at the same time for another night. List in hand, baby in trolly, I lapped the isles of the supermarket collecting nappies, cleaning supplies, yoghurts, breakfast cereal, and the ingredients for the meal and when I came to the bottles of prepared sauces I hesitated. Chicken Tonight. There it was - in a bottle - ready made. Just add chicken it said. I admit I nearly dumped the whole cart load of groceries there in the middle of the isle, so tempted was I just to pluck Charlotte out and run with gay abandon to the 12 Items or Less register.
But I steeled myself. No I said, this was like McDonalds, one minute I'm reading Fast Food Nation swearing I'll never enter another fast food chain and the next I'm lured in with a chai latte and BANG! my children are eating damn happy meals. No! I would cook chicken cacciatore from scratch as planned. Charlotte was well over shopping by this stage, demanding to be carried and pressing sushi onto my top. My watch showed I had thirty minutes until preschool finished, it would be tight, but as long as some asshole didn't ask for a price check or need change I could get out and home, ferry ten bags of shopping up into the kitchen leaving Charlotte to scream in the car, throw the refrigerated items in the fridge, put the dogs in the boot and get to preschool in time to pick Tom up and take him and the dogs to the park to burn off some steam. It would be tight but I could do it. Then if Tim got home early I could send him off with the kids while I threw dinner together, otherwise I could give the kids beans on toast while I cooked ours for later. Either way, I figured I could make the meal in 22 minutes.
They were already in the kitchen hungry at 18 minutes. Tim paced, carrying Charlotte who said 'Da? Da?' reaching for food. Tom was heading towards the pantry. It was nearing meltdown. "Out! Out! I just need four more minutes!" I shoed them away coming round to dump a pile of place mats and cutlery on the table. The highchair still needed a proper clean from lunch. I was only half way through putting the groceries away and unpacking the dishwasher. The cat was clawing the back door for food. The sink still had bowls from breakfast in it. Charlotte's sippy cup needed refilling. Then the rice alarm sounded 'beep beep, beep beep' and like I'd fired a flare my family came and found their seats as I plated the food and rushed it to the table. The room went quiet with eating and I sat down and joined them.
I found I was starving and I was glad I'd heaped a large serving for myself. The food was hot and tasty and I was presently surprised and I heard myself say "If I bought this in a jar at a supermarket I'd be happy."